I don't own them.


"Hey Soda."

I had to get away from the living room for a while. It was late -- or early, depending on how you put it. Dallas was asleep upright in a chair, his white hair standing out in the dark. Two-Bit was on the couch, a half-empty beer in one hand (he must have brought it in himself, 'cause we never have any in the house). Steve was on the floor in front of the door, though I don't really know why. He should have been with Soda.

Which is where I was. After I'd tried to fall asleep for almost an hour, I'd made sure everyone else was okay (Pony hadn't had a nightmare yet, thank god, and with Johnny in there maybe he wouldn't). When I opened Soda's door, I found my brother awake, staring out the dark half-cracked window.

Soda jumped out of bed, his feet on the floor and in a defensive position faster than I could see in the semi-darkness. I put up my hands, sorry for startling him on a night where we were expecting the Socs to attack. I was half-proud of Soda for having such good reactions and half-ashamed of what we'd had to go through to gain those reactions.

"Darry." He relaxed, flopping back down onto the bed, the only excuse I needed to come into the room and fall onto his bed myself. This bed was hardly used anymore. Soda slept with Pony every night except for when Johnny was over.

I noticed that Soda was shaking. It was far from cold outside and even his being topless shouldn't make him shiver like that from cold. On a whim, I scooted closer to him and hugged him, drawing him to me in an effort to make him stop shivering. He leaned against me, his head fitting just under my chin.

We sat there for a few minutes. I listened to Soda breathe and thought about Ponyboy. There was more going on with my youngest brother than he wanted me to know. Was it just the Socs? Was it something more?

"You should do this with Pony." Soda mumbled into my chest. He'd stopped shivering but one of his hands was wrapped in my shirt. I knew that if one of the guys came in he'd leap away like I had the plague, but now he was pressed up against me.

What he said surprised me a little. "Pony doesn't….he wouldn't…" There were things I could do with Sodapop that I could do with Pony, like talk to him about girls and hug him and call him 'little buddy'. Soda needed a brother and Pony needed a father.

"He doesn't think you love him." Soda said quietly, pushing away from me so he was looking me in the face. "He just wants you to love him."

I opened my mouth, about to say something when Soda interrupted me. "And I know you do, Darry, and I think Pony knows you do, but…" he looked away.

"Sodapop, if you're going to say something spit it out." I admit that I growled this, but I wasn't in the mood for riddles or a brother who wouldn't tell me what was going on.

Soda looked at me eyes wide, body tense, before he relaxed again. "It's just that Pony…it's been really tough on him. All of this. He's only a kid, and he needs, you know. Kid stuff. Hugs. Someone who tells him he's not worthless." He looked away from me, which is good. My mouth was literally hanging open. "Kids need those things. Little stuff makes a difference when you're twelve."

I vowed right then to hug Pony when he woke up. Poor kid would probably think he was dreaming. He wasn't exactly healthy as it is, due to the damn Socs jumping him whenever they had a chance.

"You okay Dar?" Soda looked confused, like he was trying to figure me out like I was a puzzle or something. He also looked tired.

"Go to sleep, Soda." I got off his bed, making for the door. I'd make sure Johnny and Pony were okay. Make sure Pony was still breathing. I heard a soft, Soda-sized thump as my brother hit the pillow.

I walked to Pony's door and opened it as quietly as I could. Johnny and Pony were curled up together on the edge of the bed, close to falling off it. I leaned against the doorframe, straining against the darkness to make sure Pony's chest rose and fell. Then I just watched them.

It was one of the great mysteries that surrounded the gang. Why were Ponyboy and Johnny so close? There was a four year age gap between them and it had never seemed to matter. Johnny didn't seem to mind that Pony followed him around and Pony liked being with Johnny more than he liked being with the rest of the gang.

More than being with me.

I closed the door, standing in the house with six sleeping boys and feeling completely alone.


I woke up a lot earlier than usual. Johnny was on top of me and if I moved we'd both be falling off the bed. So I didn't move.

Soda always teases me for being able to sit still for so long and then not being able to sit still at all. I don't think it's a hard thing to do. I didn't move and watch Johnny breath. He looks a lot younger asleep and a lot less scared. Johnny always looks at you like he expects you to kick him.

I think it was in that hour that I didn't move that I decided I wouldn't take Emily hitting me. I wouldn't tell Darry -- I couldn't. It would hurt him, more than even he would think it would. But she wouldn't hit me again. I'd run or…something. If there was one thing I knew I could do, it was running. It was something I was good at without trying. I could outdistance Emily easily.

I realized that my arm had gone numb while I dangled it over the side of the bed. I raised it up to the rest of my body and groaned. I'd forgotten about the bruises. The groan made my chest hurt, which made me groan again.

"You okay, Pony?" Johnny still sounded like he was half-asleep, but he rolled off me and opened his eyes.

Like I'd predicted, I fell off the bed when he moved. That didn't help my injuries at all. A pathetic whimper came out before I choked it back down, but Johnny had heard me already. He leaned over the edge of the bed, his hair sticking up and falling in front of his eyes as he looked at me. "You okay, Pony?" he asked again, only this time he was talking about the fall.

"Yeah."I picked myself up, ready for the pain this time. Cautiously, I stuck my hands over my head and stretched. "I think I'll make breakfast." I went into the living room and almost tripped over Two-Bit, who had obviously fallen off the couch. He didn't wake up, though, even while I was hoping around on one foot.

I woke Dallas up, though. His eyes just snapped open and if you didn't know better you'd have thought he was never asleep at all. "You okay, Ponyboy?" I was seriously tired of that question, but I just said yeah and moved toward the kitchen, hoping we had some eggs.

"Johnnycake up yet?" Dally asked me and I just pointed toward my bedroom. I knew Dally would just look in and make sure Johnny was still alive before he left. Dally would hit the streets with a grudge today. For a second, I felt bad for any Socs getting in his path. They wouldn't know what hit him.

A loud yell from Steve finally succeeded in waking Two-Bit up. He stumbled to his feet, a half-empty beer bottle held out like a knife. It would have been funny if I hadn't been so busy looking toward Steve.

Steve, for some reason, had been sleeping in front of the door. When the door opened, he's woken up, which is probably why he yelled. But it was who was at the door that made my insides get tight.

Numbly, I walked back to my room, brushing past Dally, who was going out as I was going in. I sat on the bed, breathing hard enough for Johnny to come right next to me and ask me what was wrong.

I only shook my head, pointing towards Emily who was now laughing along with Steve at the ridiculous expression on Two-Bit's face.